By Paul Goble
Anti-Chinese attitudes exist at the popular level throughout Central Asia, although they are most strongly manifested the closer the country is to China, Bishkek scholar Temur Umarov says. What is worrisome is that these attitudes among have the peoples of the region often play a more important role in the decisions of officials than do experts.
As a result, some Central Asians are ready to accept as expressions of Beijing’s plans the work of Chinese bloggers, even when a more sober assessment by regional Sinologists like himself, Umarov says, would lead to less alarmist conclusions and actions (ia-centr.ru/han-tengri/opinions/temur-umarov-v-kitaistike-ostalis-lish-pozhilye-akademiki-/).
For example, the appearance of maps on the Internet showing supposed Chinese aspirations to absorb all of Central Asia often sparks popular anger and, where possible, even demonstrations. But in almost all cases, Umarov says, there are no reasons to believe that these maps represent anything more than the fantasies of their authors.
“I am an opponent of the theory that the Chinese have a strategy for the next century and know what they want to achieve in any part of the world decades ahead,” the Kyghyz sinologist says. In, fact, in Central Asia in particular, “Chinese policy has been more reactive than pro-active” and is likely to remain so.
Except for Kazakhstan where a diplomatic specialist on China has risen to the position of president, the countries of Central Asia currently lack the kind of experts who can provide guidance to the political leadership. That represents a major change from the situation at the end of Soviet times, Umarov says.
In Uzbekistan, for example, “which in Soviet times was a center for the study of Xinjiang and China as a whole, the country has not been able to retain them since in the 1990s, all either left Chinese studies or Uzbekistan itself. Now, in this sphere, remain only elderly academics” who focus on questions other than the political and diplomatic